February 13, 2018
Taking Care of Business — Bills, Committees, and More
Friends, Neighbors, and Fellow Fairbanksans,
It’s the fifth week of the 2018 legislative session, and I have been busy working on the State’s budget as well as my own bills. We are getting close to wrapping up finance subcommittees, which is an important step in reviewing the budgets of individual State Agencies and making recommendations. I have also been kept busy with appointments with people from our district as well as groups from all around Alaska. Listening to your concerns and helping to answer your questions is a continuing priority.
Ending the Pink Slip Circus
One concern I hear often from teachers, parents, staff, and students is how the cuts to the K-12 education budget since FY14 have hurt our schools. As a proud supporter of education and a parent myself, I share these concerns. That’s why I supported my colleagues in the House Majority Coalition in the passage of House Bill 287. This bill would fund education in advance of the operating budget passing, so that schools and teachers won’t have to wait until the full State budget is passed. Sometimes, the operating budget doesn’t pass until the summer, but school districts must make their budget decisions in April. This bill provides a level of certainty in an uncertain time, and makes it easier for our district to make plans for the upcoming year. Our talented and hardworking educators deserve to have confidence in their job security.
However, while this bill passed the House last Wednesday night, the funding for it unfortunately did not. There were some people that wanted to use general fund money for this, but that would not have solved the problem and would have led us into the same circus we had last year. We needed a ¾ vote to appropriate funds from the State’s Constitutional Budget Reserve, and we were unable to garner that supermajority. Now, it is up to the Senate to add a funding source to the bill. We are hopeful that the Senate will value the fiscal certainty this would provide to our school districts, and that they will be willing to help end the annual pink slip circus that has plagued our teachers since the State’s fiscal crisis began.
This session, I am working on several bills. Here is a summary of some of my legislation:
House Bill 176- This bill provides reimbursement for emergency ground medical transport of Medicaid patients. With public safety funding in Alaskan communities stretched thin, and the opioid crisis also increasing the number of ambulance transports, this bill provides a needed service to many Alaskans. HB 176 would use a supplemental reimbursement of Federal Medicaid dollars to help offset the cost for ambulance transport of Medicaid patients by public providers such as fire departments. The bill is cost neutral to the State.
House Bill 207 – The Alaska Railroad Corporation has taken an economic hit in recent years with the slowdown of oil production, closure of the Flint Hills refinery, and downturn of coal exportation. This bill will allow the Board of ARRC to sell non-performing land assets, generate cash flow, and respond to opportunities in the real estate market without legislative approval. In the short term, it would allow the railroad to pursue several projects, including residential property development in Fairbanks, as well as a hotel development in Healy. These projects are good for the Interior and meet some of our economic needs. A three-year sunset ensures that their activity will be monitored by the Legislature and reevaluated in 2021.
House Bill 299 – Extends the Alcoholic Beverage Control board four years until June 2022. The ABC Board serves an important role by controlling the manufacture, barter, possession, and sale of alcohol in the state.
House Bill 300 – In 2014, Alaskan voters approved Ballot Measure 2, the act to tax and regulate the production, sale, and use of marijuana. Since then the federal government has revoked the Cole Memo, which essentially allowed the federal government to turn a blind eye on individuals whose actions conform with existing state laws. I trust the will of the people; this bill will prohibit the use of state and municipal resources to aid the federal government in enforcing law within the legal bounds of Alaska’s marijuana laws (AS 17.38).
House Bill 301 – Due to a reinterpretation of statute, thirty-four Alaskan businesses are in jeopardy of being unable to renew, transfer, or sell their existing liquor license which allows them to operate a bar on premises. These businesses are commonly referred to as roadhouses, places whose primary function is to provide food, drink, and a place to stay along the Alaskan road system. Many only have ten rooms, which was a requirement at the time of initial licensure. However, due to population parameters these businesses are being told that they must now build additional rooms (some up to twenty) to conform with their original licensure. This bill will allow these family businesses, some which have been open prior to statehood, to continue operating and be allowed to continue business with the license as-is.
The deadline to submit new bills is February 19, so I may end up introducing a few more.
As always, please do not hesitate to call or email my office in Juneau. We can be reached at 907-465-4976, and you can always send me an email at email@example.com. Individuals can also subscribe to the news list by emailing me. We look forward to hearing from you!